Teaching Spotlight – Walking Office Hours

Two students walking and laughing
Photo credit: Paul H. Joseph / UBC Brand & Marketing

Jaclyn Dee recently introduced Walking Office Hours into her BIOL 209 course as a way to connect with students and extend student learning beyond the classroom.

“In addition to getting students out of the classroom to learn in the ‘real world’ and tell stories, Walking Office Hours are an ‘ask me anything’ time. I find that students are curious about career paths and want advice on things like courses to take and grad school.”

And with the COVID situation, Walking Office hours offer additional benefits. “It’s outdoors, so it’s safer than regular office hours right now, and it’s the perfect antidote to all the computer time we’ve had over the past year.”

Below, Jaclyn describes how she implemented Walking Office Hours in her course, shares what she learned, and offers advice for others who might want to do something similar.

What motivated you to do Walking Office Hours?

Walking Office Hours checked many boxes for me. Firstly, I wanted students to “meet” our organisms (fungi, algae, and bryophytes) on their home turf, learn their names, and ask biological questions. I also wanted to tell stories about these organisms that I didn’t have time to tell during class.

In addition, I was keen to create opportunities for building trust and fostering authentic, interpersonal connections. Getting outside of the lecture hall enabled students to meet new people and to just coexist in a neutral space with me, their teacher.

Lastly, I wanted to do something to promote student health and my health. Being out in Nature and engaging in physical activity are both good for humans.

How did you do it?

Walking Office Hours are 30 minutes long and they were scheduled at the same time each week. They are by invitation. Everyone eventually gets an invitation, but I split the class randomly into groups of 10 so that I can pay attention to each student. During my first lecture, I told students about Walking Office Hours and explained their purpose and how I would run them. Then, on the Friday of each week, I would email the 10 selected students to meet me at the fountain at 12:30 pm on the following Wednesday. From the fountain, we would walk to a spot on campus where there were mushrooms. I assigned one student to keep track of the time so that we wouldn’t run over time.

Did you have any reservations about holding Walking Office Hours?

Yes. Deciding to make the time commitment was difficult. However, I reasoned that I was supposed to have 1 hour of office hours per week at the same time each week anyways and no one was showing up for those, except around exam time, so the time involved seemed reasonable overall. I also kept a conventional weekly office hour and office hours by appointment (which practically no one attended). I also worried that no one would show up. In fact, sometimes no one showed up, but other times 6 people showed up. I thought it was still worth it for those few who ended up really getting something out of it.

What did you learn?

I learned some pretty neat things:

  1. Students who are afraid of ordinary office hours will come to outdoor office hours! These are 2nd or 3rd year students and some of them said this was the first ever office hour they had ever attended.
  2. It was fun and relaxing. At the end of one session, a student remarked that she had been quite stressed out recently and being outdoors for 30 minutes was the most relaxed that she had felt in a long time.
  3. Walking Office Hours are potentially memorable. They got a few nods of approval in my course evaluations.
  4. Students will open up to you in this space. I got to know some delightful people with interesting hobbies and stories to tell.

What is your advice for someone who is interested in running (haha) Walking Office Hours, but is a little uncertain about it?

Make it low-barrier. Try to pick places that are free, accessible to wheelchairs, and non-intimidating (i.e. not Wreck Beach).

Also, the way I did it worked for me, but you should make it your own. Watch crows do intelligent things, catch spiders, look at the BioDiv pond water with handheld microscopes, go to Nitobe Garden, or go to the Reconciliation Pole. Whatever is within a ~10-15 min walking distance that interests you is great. I wanted to make a connection to my course content through the Walking Office Hour, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. You may be comfortable telling students that this is just a social/Q&A time/change of scenery. That’s cool too.

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